Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ode to a Family Icon...

My Uncle Tyrone (Hubert "Tyrone" Martin) passed away June 29th, 2009. I attended his funeral today. The tears welled up, fell and rewelled. While Michael Jackson's death signifies the end of cultural icon, my Uncle Tyrone's passing signifies the end of a childhood icon.

I spent early childhood in Jamaica, Queens during the Vietnam War era. My parents, Antiguan immigrants, while friendly to our neighbors, felt safe, like immigrants before them, with fellow Antiguan immigrants. My Uncle Tyrone and my Dad, late 50's immigrants, were thick as thieves. Their Polaroids remind me of their Golden Age, posed by shiny new American cars, at Hecksher Park/Sunken Meadow family outings, sometimes while they're on the road to Montreal, Toronto, or the Bronx. They wore the latest fashions, cigarette slacks and v-neck tops in the 60's, bell bottoms and vests in the 70's, looking like the West Indian Mafioso in a self conceived Shaft flick (how about Shaft in Antigua?). Our families had kids simultaneously, three of Uncle Tyrone's kids (Ira, Carmelita, and Tisha) were born virtually the same years my siblings were.

As the 70's elapsed and the 80's took over, countless family events morphed the Cummings's and the Martin's into family...we didn't know or proclaim it, it just happened. Love and togetherness works like that sometimes.

I was a college undergrad when Uncle Tyrone's first wife, Gwenneth, passed from cancer - I attended her funeral. It was the last time I remember the Cummings and the entire Martin family together. At that time, I didn't foresee the challenge adulthood poses to family cohesiveness.

During my adulthood, I moved to NYC and my Uncle Tyrone visits became less frequent. Uncle Tyrone's kids had kids and the complexities of their adulthood (and mine) took hold resulting, much to my regret, to distance. Life works like that sometimes.

I remember Uncle Tyrone's infectious laugh, his competitiveness (he hated losing, from bets to bowling), he was a firebrand, a proud family man, at times stern, he took no mess (ask anyone who knew him family, friend or foe - think about it, who knows a weak Tyrone), a hard worker, firmly opinionated, he never budged (no matter what anyone thought), a fierce Obama supporter. He was a surrogate Dad, I always felt invited in his home.

Was he without fault, I'm sure he wasn't (and his faults aren't for me to share with you), but who isn't? As far as I knew, he succeeded as a man, he left his manhood on the table for everyone to see. I took notice. Especially in the latter stages of his life, he further embraced his family and God. I didn't know him as a person who verbally declares his love, but he'd show you.

He showed me once more. Fall 2008, my Dad tells me Uncle Tyrone asked about me. I decided to make it a surprise, and instructed my parents to keep secret my attendance at the Martin's Thanksgiving dinner. For once my parents actually kept a secret.

Excited, I joined the Martin clan for one more Thanksgiving. Uncle Tyrone was surprised, but didn't miss a beat in returning me to the safety and familiarity of family once more. We caught up and he acquainted me with a new generation of Martins (he remarried). Uncle Tyrone and I spoke for several hours, savored waves of West Indian/American cuisine - (sorrel, jonnycake, turkey/stuffing, curry beef, ambrosia), shared laughs and exchanged stories. I never knew it would be the last time I saw him alive. I realize now he possibly knew something I didn't.

My Uncle Tyrone represents a withering patriarchal era. In an era where oftentimes men shun responsibility/manhood, he embraced manhood for all it stood for, and at the end, I believe he was at peace with it.

I know this. I miss him already. An icon of my childhood died with him, but I'm buoyed by the memories. Rest well Uncle Tyrone, rest well.


Omo said...

beautifully shared. i am sorry for your loss but, at the same time, thankful you had the opportunity to be touched by such a man. "a withering patriarchal era" indeed.

The Afro-Elitist said...


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